Stranger than Fiction: Are Industry Lies Keeping You Down?

To all writers out there who are dutifully following the rules laid out in guidelines and at conferences about submitting your work: getting frustrated much? How well I know that feeling.

If you play strictly by the rules, the whole process could take so long that you just might give up before your manuscript is seriously considered by an agent or an editor.  The following article is for anyone who has a tightly edited manuscript and wants to speed up the whole submission process without completely pissing off the gate-keepers to the publishing world.  I hope it helps you get closer to your dream of publication.

Stranger than Fiction:
Are Industry Lies Keeping You Down?j0402594
by Marie Lamba

Never send simultaneous submissions. Always tell you are multiple submitting. Never email. Do this, don’t do that. Yada yada yada. Guess what? Lot’s of this advice might be actually keeping you from getting ahead! Let’s sort some of this stuff out.

The Big Lie:
Never send simultaneous submissions. If you do simultaneous submit, you must tell the editor/agent.

The Big Truth:
Never send simultaneous submissions to two editors or agents in the same company. Other than that, all is fair in love and publishing. Hey, what other business expects you to do things one at a time and wait for months to hear anything? Makes for very poor marketing. And you don’t need to tell anyone it’s simultaneous. Just don’t mention it. Do you really think you are getting two offers from two different people at the same time? Seriously?

I know that if you talk to editors on a conference panel, they’ll tell you just the opposite. Think about it. Why would they want you to flood everybody with submissions? And if you were a buyer, wouldn’t you love to avoid all chances of competition? But talk to professional authors, and they will tell you to simultaneous submit. If they didn’t, they’d still be waiting by the mailbox for a response.

Caveat: Make sure you carefully target your submission to editors and agents who actually handle your type of work, or else you’re wasting everyone’s time. Also, if an agent asks for an exclusive read and you agree, make sure it is an exclusive or be up front if it isn’t. You don’t want to start things on the wrong foot.

The Big Lie:
Be patient.

The Big Truth:
Patience is sometimes stupidity. In every submission, include a SASE postcard with a check off that they’ve received your work in good condition. If after a month the card is nowhere in sight, email the editor or get on the phone and call to track it down. Otherwise you may be waiting for 4-6 months to hear about a book that they never even received. (Been there, done that.) Of course, if you’re multiple submitting, it won’t be a huge tragedy, but still.

Also, if you haven’t gotten a response to your manuscript in their promised reading time, do a follow-up by email, phone or mail to make sure you’re still in the queue and not lost in a junk pile. Be polite and no nonsense about it. Don’t waste everyone’s time chitchatting.

The Big Lie:
Never Email

The Big Truth:
Email is amazing. Email queries are fast. Agents love these. You can find most agent and editor emails by Googling “their name” plus “email.” Email is also great for a quick follow up on a return postcard that wasn’t sent, or if the manuscript is past the reading time promised. But I wouldn’t email a manuscript unless you got a go ahead for this first.

The Big Lie:
When going to a conference, leave your manuscript at home.

The Big Truth:
Okay, nothing screams AMATEUR more than hauling out that huge manuscript and foisting on an editor at a conference, but it is useful to have the manuscript tucked away just in case. When I was at a pitch slam and the editor liked what I said, he asked, “Could you quickly read me some of it?” I yanked that pile of paper out pronto and started off. Also, I like to bring to conferences a few stapled sets of my first chapter with a one-paragraph summary and contact info attached to them, just in case.

The Big Lie:
If an agent/editor doesn’t get back to you, give up.

The Big Truth:
Always hope. Agents and editors are swamped. They may say response time is 4 months, when in reality it could be 9 months to a year. They lose manuscripts, their computers fail, emails get lost in cyberspace. Always put in that SAS postcard to confirm receipt. If emailing a manuscript, ask for an email confirmation that it was received. Follow up every few months to make sure you’re in the queue and ask if you should resend. You’ll find that most feel really bad about making you wait and will be kind when you touch base with them.

The Biggest Truth of All:
If your manuscript is shoddy, nothing will work. If your manuscript is excellent, GO FOR IT! No one will turn you down, unless you are a complete jerk. So be professional and courteous. When these two qualities are mixed with an excellent work, it is the true formula for success. No lie!

10 thoughts on “Stranger than Fiction: Are Industry Lies Keeping You Down?

  1. Some great advice there, but I would question your ‘Biggest Truth Of All’. You’re being tongue in cheek there, right? An excellent MS and courteous professionalism are a great formula, but I’d hesitate to call them a guarantee!

  2. Excellent. I’ve been trying to tell my clients this for a long time – not so short & sweet like you. In my experience, the worst are the academics, who by training & temperament are already dead slow children – they “want it yesterday but tells you tomorrow.” Academic manuscripts are often badly written, almost unedited (because academics like to think they have a monopoly on knowing how to write) and just plain bloody repetitive. What you say, yeah, it’s wisdom. Epic Win. – Robert

    • Hey thenakedlistener,

      Academic writing. Wow, don’t get me started. My husband’s a professor, and if I read the word “pedagogy” in one more of his manuscripts, I just might lose it. Seriously, though, we writers can help ourselves so much by just taking our own work seriously enough to make it as tight and elegant as we possibly can. Not many things are in our control, but surely this is.

      Thanks for your kind words, and for stopping by.

  3. Hi 4dprefect,

    Okay, let’s just say that being a writer means being optimistic beyond all belief. Ah, blind optimism… I do believe that things will work out for someone with all the ingredients in that formula. What can I say?

    Thanks for checking in!

  4. Good stuff, Marie. I hear these very issues discussed over and over and over at conferences, coffeeshops and while we’re all out crying in our beer.

    The truth is, most of what we’ve come to know in the publishing business is being turned on its head. Gatecrashing and Rule-Breaking aren’t the career-killing disqualifiers they used to be.

    If the work is good, driving it to the top of the slush pile through professionally executed, aggressive tactics is becoming more and more the norm.

    • Hey Don,

      Great to see you here! You speak wisdom, as always! And you are so right about the rule-breaking and gate-crashing. The trick is to not be obnoxious and to have some limits. A writer has to present themselves as someone that the editor or agent wants to work with over the long-haul. So if anyone is thinking of sending their manuscript via gorilla-gram or slipping it under the bathroom stall, oh please don’t!


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